Monthly Archives: November 2012

Celebrity Babe of the Month: November

Babe the Blue Ox

Real Name: Babe the Blue Ox

Babe-ification story:

It was so cold that winter that the snow had turned blue (The Winter of the Blue Snow, they called it). Paul Bunyan was taking a walk in the woods when he found a baby ox nearly frozen. Even after he warmed it up, the critter stayed as blue as the snow. Paul fell for that baby ox and decided to take care of it forever…thus, Babe the Blue Ox.

Celebrification story:

Being raised in Paul’s camp, Babe grew to epic (literally) proportions. Though he certainly made a name for himself around the camp, it wasn’t until he started helping out with Paul’s logging jobs that his fame grew to match his size.

For Babe’s first truly incredible feat, Paul hitched him to the crooked logging roads and had him tug until he’d pulled them tight, creating a straight shot to the lumberyards and leaving enough leftover road to lay some down into new timberland.

Meta-Celebrification story:

There are as many stories about Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan as there are people to tell them.

Although there is speculation that the seeds of the legend may have been sown during Canada’s Papineau Rebellion, most sources agree that the stories first circulated orally in logging camps starting around the 1880s. James McGillivray is credited with the tales’ transition into print, publishing selections in a Michigan newspaper in 1906 and four years later expanding them in a long rhyming story called “The Round River Drive” (Babe appears in TRRD, but not by name).

But Paul and Babe didn’t hit the big time until 1914, when William Laughead (Loghead?) of the Red River Lumber Company commandeered them for a new line of work: advertising.

The logging industry had fallen on hard times, and Paul and Babe were the icons that could give it a lift. Featuring stories and illustrations of the lumberjack and his ox, Laughead’s Red River Lumber pamphlets reached beyond industry insiders and made their way to a wide readership. Laughead was also responsible for saddling the ox with a permanent moniker. By 1922, Paul and Babe were household names.

To naysayers and those who claim Paul and Babe are “fakelore,” website lumberwoods.com has this answer, a quote from Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes:

Who made Paul Bunyan, who gave him birth as a myth, who joked him into life as a the Master Lumberjack, who fashioned him forth as an apparition easing the hours of men amid axes and trees, saws and lumber? The people, the bookless people, they made Paul and had him alive long before he got into the books for those who read. He grew up in shanties, around the hot stoves of winter, among socks and mittens drying, in the smell of tobacco smoke and the roar of laughter mocking the outside weather. And some of Paul came overseas in wooden bunks below decks in sailing vessels. And some of Paul is old as the hills, young as the alphabet.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota

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The Dirt on Geophagy

Remember those cozy days on the playground when you patted and poked and cooked up a real nice mudpie…and then ate it?

Most of you grew up and left your dirt-eating days behind, but not all of you. Do I have any readers out there with lingering mud mustaches? Raise a hand (er, a comment?) and let us see who you are. As it turns out, you’re not alone.

Kids who eat dirt are called kids. But when adults eat dirt (or clay, or chalk), it’s called geophagy. (Actually, it’s technically called geophagy for kids, too.)

If you just said, “No, that’s called pica,” hear me out. Pica is classified as an eating disorder in which people feel like they really need to eat things that aren’t food. But geophagy is specific to earthy substances, and it’s often more like a hobby than a craving.

Who eats dirt?

Anybody can catch the geophagy bug. Among animals, dirt is no delicacy; it’s in the diet of mammals, reptiles, and especially birds (many species of parrot, specifically). In people, dirt-eating is most common among children and pregnant women. It’s also associated with people who live in poverty and who adhere to traditional medical practices over modern ones.

Where?

Geophagy is going on all over the world, especially if you’re talking about animals. (I’m pretty sure it’s happening in my backyard right now, actually.) Human dirt-eaters may be more common in parts of Africa than in westernized countries, but the practice is still alive and well in the rural American South.

What kind of dirt?

Clay, mostly. Georgia white clay (kaolin) is apparently particularly pleasing to the palate and is available for purchase online. Some small stores in rural areas keep clay in stock. According to Wikipedia, if you go all the way to Haiti you can get a real farm-to-table experience: you can buy fresh, local mudpies from women who just baked them on their roofs.

But really…why?

Well, the main reason people eat clay may be that it’s good for you. It includes minerals and nutrients that can fight pathogens, and there is evidence that birds eat clay because it neutralizes toxins in other foods they ingest, allowing them to get nutrients from the other foods without becoming sick. In fact, a few types of clay may work like Kaopectate (which, until 2003, actually included kaolin – Georgia white clay – as an ingredient). And some dirt-eating is likely the remnant of traditional medicinal practices. Great-granny may not have called her natural remedies “geophagy,” but they sure did taste a lot like dirt…

It’s possible that some people eat dirt because they don’t have anything else to eat. The fact that geophagy is more common in impoverished populations than it is among people who have enough to eat lends credence to this theory. Another consideration is that geophagy may be a part of tribal or religious ceremonies and rituals in some cultures.

And of course, some people just like the taste of dirt.

World’s Most Famous Geophage?

 

For a truly insightful essay paralleling a foray into geophagy with a spiritual journey, read Beth Ann Fennelly’s piece in the Oxford American.

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